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I welcome a new couple to my therapy office. They are in their late 20s. He gives a smile, seeming apprehensive. She reaches for his hand and appears anxious to begin.

"So, what I know about relationships is that we all have our own experiences," I start. "Because of this, it is important that I hear from both of you today about what is going on. Who would like to start?"

They look at each other.

After a pause, she says, "We are here to find out how we can help our relationship before we get married. We want to know more about ourselves, and our relationship so we will be better equipped to deal with conflict in the future." She continues, "And, we hope to develop a relationship with you so that when we struggle in our marriage, we can come back to work through it."

Here's what we know about relationships. It is not IF you will struggle in your relationship. It is WHEN you will struggle with the one you love—and that's completely normal.

When we enter romantic relationships, we open ourselves up. We share our innermost longings and secrets with the person sitting across from us, becoming more vulnerable. We take risks and we hope they will "catch us" in our times of need.

But here's the catch.

The moment your partner means something to you is the very moment they have the ability to hurt you. This is an important point. Your partner will hurt you—it's inevitable. When we hold out our hearts to the ones we love, who we so long to be accepted and valued by, we open ourselves up to being hurt.

No one individual can meet all your needs—our partners are not perfect. They will make mistakes and this is okay. It is not about having a perfect relationship without difficult moments. Rather, it is about repairing the hurts and mistakes that happen so we do not keep repeating them.

Repair is important. And sometimes we need help to repair really tough moments. This is why my mind silently cheered for this couple in my office—they were preparing for their tough moments, becoming more informed and ready to face adversity—together. As a couples therapist, this was music to my ears.

When we hit tough moments in life or in our relationship, we want to know:

  • (A)re you there for me?
  • Will you (R) respond to me?
  • Are you (E) engaged with me?

Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and author of best-selling couple books Hold Me Tight and Love Sense, calls this the A.R.E conversation that helps create security and connection between couples. It is what we look for in our partner during times of stress.

But when couples are distressed, they have difficulties responding to each other in this manner. Dr. John Gottman, couples therapist and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, has studied over 3000 couples and describes four toxic patterns of communication:

  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Stonewalling

When couples are distressed, they fall into these negative communication patterns that consist of negative displays of emotions, blame and hostility and withdrawal. These cycles become entrenched into a repeating, cyclical pattern that continues to be reinforced over time. And often, while a couple is having an argument about different issues, the pattern of communication is the same.

For some, this may look like "I blame because you withdraw" or "I withdraw because you blame." In these patterns of communication, couples experience emotional disconnection, increased negative affect and unmet needs and longings. This further perpetuates insecurity and feelings of rejection and abandonment.

Couples who are unable to resolve problems stay stuck in their conflict. According to Dr. Gottman, these negative communication patterns are linked to higher rates of divorce.

Couple’s Therapy: What is it and how can it help us?

Couple's therapy, and therapy in general, is becoming more widespread and accepted. We see this in the general discourse of famous couples – Kristen Bell's recent "Love Ballad" to her therapist, and her and Dax Shepard's openness about seeking couple's therapy to enhance their marriage—just one example of public figures opening up about seeking relationship support.

Despite more and more couples willing to attend therapy together, I often hear misconceptions from others about what couple therapists do, and this stops them from seeking help.

“Why would I want to talk to a stranger about our private issues?” “They will just give advice that I already know.” “They will take your side.”

Couple's therapy is not an advice-giving, blaming experience. Instead, therapists work to develop a safe and collaborative relationship with both partners. It is key that both individuals feel heard and validated. Their experience of the relationship is real and in order to help change, it must be understood.

Therapists also act as process consultants, slowing down interactions and observing patterns that the couple may not be able to see. Couples often think they can get out of these patterns themselves; however, these patterns are entrenched and have been reinforced over the lifetime of the relationship. It becomes hard for both partners to change.

As an objective third person, therapists provide insight into what is keeping them stuck, communication errors, and aspects about each individual that is contributing to the distress. Tools are also provided to couples.

When did you take a course titled "Relationships 101?" Yet, we know that our relationships are one of the most important parts of our lives. This is why we fight for them—we fight to matter, to feel heard and validated. But we never learn how to do this.

In addition to getting out of sticky patterns, couple's therapy can help build increased emotional closeness and physical and sexual contact. It can address complex feelings between you and your partner, or perhaps from past relationships that are impacting your relationship today.

Therapy can also help restore trust between partners, perhaps from a difficult emotional event, or from an emotional or sexual affair. It can also help improve communication, problem-solving and negotiation skills. These skills can also be used to help couple partners improve their parenting ability.

Finally, sexual intimacy is key in our relationships but so often partners do not know how to communicate about and resolve sexual difficulties. Therapists can help resolve some of these issues, perhaps related to desire and orgasm, or sexual pain, or to enhance sexual practices.

“Therapy is too expensive and time-consuming.”

Yes, it is. I do not challenge others when they say this. What I do ask, however, is that they consider how important their relationship is to them and if a meaningful life includes a connected companionship.

Our relationships do not come easily to us—it is okay to struggle in them, but it also means we must work at them. We are not born "good communicators." We need to learn how to do this. Like any skill, we need to put time, practice and effort into it.

While therapy is expensive, so is a vacation. What if one year you postpone the vacation and invest in your relationship? Perhaps then you will have a lifetime of connected vacations.

Many of the couples I see in therapy have date nights after our sessions to continue to connect and discuss key issues. Perhaps the babysitter stays for an hour longer. Or, other wants are put on hold to prioritize the relationship. You make this choice to engage and invest in your relationship.

“We’re not that bad. Why would we go now?”

Dr. Gottman's research shows that the average couple will wait six years before seeking help. Waiting this long further entrenches your negative patterns and can have significant consequences for you and your relationship.

Research shows that relationship distress can cause adverse effects on both physiological (i.e., cardiovascular, endocrine and immune functioning) and emotional health (i.e., mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders).

When couples attend therapy prior to years of significant distress, they can learn to communicate and discuss difficult issues before they become unresolved arguments. This is a prevention model, rather than a treatment model.

In addition to helping to improve the relationship, couple's therapy has also been shown to help individual emotional and behavioral problems, as well as mental and physical health disorders. Think of couple's therapy as prevention, regardless of where you are in your relationship, we can all benefit from learning how to better connect with our loved ones.

You might also like:

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

On Friday President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control is now advising people to wear a cloth mask if they need to go out in public in a place where social distancing would be hard.

The CDC is not asking people to wear masks all the time, just when you're going somewhere public like the grocery store, the pharmacy or mass transit—places where it may be hard to keep your distance from others.

What the CDC says about cloth face masks:

The CDC says it's recommending cloth face masks because recent studies show that people can have COVID-19 while asymptomatic, meaning they feel fine and because they don't know they are sick they might still be going about their daily routine in their community.

FEATURED VIDEO

Basically, masks don't protect the wearer as much as they protect people from the wearer (who might not know they are sick) by blocking respiratory droplets

"So it's not going to protect you, but it is going to protect your neighbor," Dr. Daniel Griffin at Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases, tells NPR.

CDC experts are "advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

They say if you're going somewhere where it's hard to maintain the proper social distance of six feet, like a grocery store or a pharmacy, then it's a good idea to wear a simple cloth mask.

"The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance," the CDC states.

"You may need to improvise a cloth face covering using a scarf or bandana," the agency notes on its website.

A DIY cloth mask is an extra layer of protection:

The CDC still says that staying home and practicing good hand hygiene is the best protection against COVID-19, but a cloth mask would be an extra layer of protection if you must go out to get food or unavoidable medical care.

According to Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, certain types of fabric are better than others when it comes to making a mask. While he CDC says improvised bandanas or scarfs are better than nothing, Segal says DIY mask makers should aim a little higher for the masks to be effective.

"You have to use relatively high-quality cloth," Dr.Segal, who is researching this topic, tells NBC News.

According to Segal you don't want to use a knit fabric (like an old T-shirt) but rather a woven fabric. He suggests a double layer of heavyweight cotton with a thread count of at least 180 (like quilters cotton). If you don't have a cotton with that high of a thread count, line it with flannel.

For more tips on how to sew a fabric face mask, check out these instructions from Kaiser Permanente.

No-sew methods:

If you're not a sewer you can still fashion a mask, and there are plenty of no-sew tutorials online showing you how. Use heavyweight woven fabric like Segal suggests and make one of these without a sewing machine.

How To Make a Pleated Face Mask // Washable, Reusable, No-Sewing Required youtu.be

Should kids wear masks? Talk to your doctor.

The CDC says "Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance." Babies' faces should not be covered, they should not wear masks.

For older kids, the CDC is not recommending masks if you're just going for a walk around the block or playing in the backyard (which is the extent of most kids' outings these days). The masks are more for grocery runs, which many parents are opting to do alone these days.

But solo parents and those with partners who are in the military know that leaving the kids behind isn't always an option if you're the only adult in the home. If that's your circumstance, choose delivery options when possible to avoid taking your children to public places like grocery stores and pharmacies (the kinds of places the CDC recommends masks for).

If you are concerned that you may need to take your child somewhere where a mask would be required, call your pediatrician for advice on whether a mask is appropriate for your child's age and circumstances.

If you have no one to watch your children while you get groceries and cannot get them delivered try contacting your local government, community groups and churches for leads on grocery delivery help. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who can fetch groceries for you so that you don't have to take your children to the store with you.

The President says it's not a rule but a recommendation.

"It's really going to be a voluntary thing," President Trump told reporters Friday, contradicting the CDC recommendation. "I'm not choosing to do it."

First Lady Melania Trump is urging others to do it, tweeting, "I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone—we can stop this together."

[This post was originally published April 3, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Last month Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom announced some big news: The engaged pair are expecting a baby!

Perry announced her pregnancy when the music video for her single, "Never Worn White" showed her rocking a bump and this weekend she announced she's expecting a girl...by posting a photo of Bloom's face covered in pink frosting.

She geotagged the photo "Girls Run the World" and captioned it "💕 It's a girl 💕."

Clearly, this man is thrilled about becoming a #girldad.

Perry is due in the summer, as she previously noted on Instagram.

FEATURED VIDEO

"Let's just say it's gonna be a jam packed summer..." she captioned her original pregnancy announcement.

"OMG, so glad I don't have to suck it in anymore," Perry tweeted after the big news went public.

"I am excited. We're excited and happy and it's probably the longest secret I've ever had to keep," Perry explained in a live stream with fans.

Of course not long after Perry announced her pregnancy the world changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the pandemic, Perry and Bloom have postponed their wedding, according to People and are pretty much just laying low at home trying to enjoy Perry's pregnancy as much as possible during this difficult time.

Perry recently told Stellar Magazine that the wedding is about more than throwing a big bash, so while it would be totally normal to be disappointed by having to postpone it, the mom-to-be seems to be in a good place regarding her nuptials.

She told Stellar: "It's not about the party. It's about the coming together of people who will hold us accountable when things get really hard. Those are just the facts when you're with someone who challenges you to be your best self."

The little girl Bloom and Perry are expecting will have a lot of people to love on her. While this is the first child for Perry, Bloom is already a dad to a 9-year-old boy who will soon be a big brother.

Congratulations to Perry + Bloom!

News

Lizzie climbed up the playground stairs on all fours, walked across the small suspension bridge and slid down the big red slide at our neighborhood park. I followed just inches behind my 4-year-old daughter ready to catch her.

I had become her shadow by necessity. Her actions were often unpredictable and sometimes dangerous so my arms became her safety net. Her big brown eyes and unruly curly brown hair encapsulated her carefree spirit, and I adored her with a love I never thought myself capable of.

She walked over to the swings and stood there, stiff, her eyes glazed over. She didn't look to me for help. She didn't point, raise her arms up or ask me to place her in the swing. But I knew what she wanted—I sensed it.

FEATURED VIDEO

"Do you want to swing, Lizzie?" I asked in a gentle voice. She remained silent.

I didn't expect an answer, but I always asked in hopes today was the day she would choose to use her voice to form a word for the sake of communicating with me. I placed her in the swing anyway and pushed her to the exact height I knew she preferred.

A look of contentment came across her face and a giant smile curled her lips. She was in her happy place. This place was a place I wasn't allowed in—not yet anyway. She lived in an alternative universe inside her head, and after the park, we would spend the rest of the day inside using therapy techniques to pull her from this place into the real world. I missed my daughter and the connection we once had.

There were so many quirks I thought were hers alone, when in fact they were symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

Here are five possible signs of autism parents should know about. If you notice something that concerns you, please reach out to your pediatrician.

1. Change in language

As a baby, Lizzie's language gradually changed from babbling to gibberish. "With typically developing language skills, infants will babble often as early as two to three months indicating first instances of intentional and social communication," says licensed clinical speech language pathologist Julie Liberman. "An early sign of autism may be seen in infants creating nonsense syllables without added social-communicative behaviors."

Lizzie lost her social-communicative sounds and began to mimic noises from her environment such as screeching sounds or sirens. She also developed a few sounds such as "diddle diddle" that she would repeat all day long. The transition was subtle and slow—enough that at first I didn't recognize that it was happening. .

2. Sensory processing issues

"Sensory processing is how our brain and body organize and respond to sensory information. Issues develop when we are over or under-responsive to sensory information which impacts the body's ability to organize it, or modulate it and so responses range outside of typical parameters and dysregulation is observed," writes licensed occupational therapist Rachel Wolverton.

Lizzie walked on her tiptoes, flapped her arms when she was excited and ran full speed into the couch cushions over and over again. Many toddlers do similar behaviors, and we thought she was just being quirky and adorable. As part of her diagnosis, though, we came to understand that these repeated behaviors were signals that her processing was under-stimulated. She needed these movements to help her body and brain function. This also works the opposite way, too. Many kids are over-sensitive to lights, sounds and/or touch, so they become easily overstimulated. They might cover their ears, melt down when clothes are put on their bodies or withdraw from crowds.

3. Lack of response to name

Lizzie displayed what I call "selective hearing." I would stand in front of her, saying her name with a raised voice and she wouldn't respond or look up. She appeared to be deaf, but as soon as the theme song from her favorite Dora the Explorer TV show came on, she would run from the other room to watch.

As autistic teen advocate Matteo Musso explains, "Because we hear your voice so much, we don't usually respond to our name. It's that you say our name the same way all the time. A TV is more auditorily complex. One-word, same voice, can get lost in our thoughts and in our brain."

4. Repetitive behavior

My daughter began lining up her toys by color and her green peas at the dinner table. We thought she was brilliant! She is brilliant, but as it turns out, not because of her repetitive behavior.

While many children love repetition—as any parent who's got their child's favorite bedtime story memorized knows—what I learned is that the kind of repetitive behavior we saw in Lizzie is one of the core symptoms of autism.

"Individuals with autism typically find much comfort in repetitive behaviors, giving them a sense of control over their environment in a quite unruly world," says Dr. Caroline W. Ford, clinical psychologist and director of the Fairhill School and Diagnostic Assessment Center in Dallas. As she explains, autistic children experience real difficulty when their repetitive behaviors are interrupted: "When asked to change or alter the repetitive behavior, many autistic children become overly anxious."

5. Loss of connection

One of the most beautiful moments between mother and child is the first time her baby looks into her mom's eyes. It was in that moment with Lizzie, the connection formed was so strong I knew I would be willing to do anything for her.

Slowly over the course of months, she became more and more distant. She wandered around the house aimlessly and didn't seem to need me at all. As long as there was food and drink available, she was content to be all alone. It was hard to measure because it was a feeling, a distancing, a loss of connection. I second-guessed my feelings regularly. Mothers have a built-in intuition with their children, which should never be underestimated.

After my daughter's diagnosis with autism at the age of two, we researched and implemented a 30-hours-a-week home therapy program (although it's important to know that early intervention supports can also be found through community organizations and school systems—you don't have to do this alone). Now, I'm happy to say, Lizzie has made good progress, and I've found (and offered) support in the generous community of parents of autistic children like mine. I even started a non-profit, United in Autism, which partners with local charities to bring community-building, emotional-support events to special needs moms all over the country.

My daughter continues to be a source of joy and amazement. Most importantly, I know now that my daughter and I are not alone—and we never were.

Learn + Play

Starting this weekend Target and Walmart will be limiting the number of people allowed in its stores to give shoppers and staff more space to spread out and adhere to social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Beginning April 4, Target will actively monitor and, when needed, limit the total number of people inside based on the store's specific square footage," Target notes in a news release.

Walmart's corporate message is similar: "Starting Saturday, we will limit the number of customers who can be in a store at once. Stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store's capacity."

FEATURED VIDEO

At Target you will also notice staff wearing gloves and masks over the next two weeks as the company steps up its coronavirus protection measures.

Many people are choosing to stay home and order groceries online, but that's not an option for everyone as long lines at some Target's prove.

"We're incredibly proud of the commitment our more than 350,000 frontline team members have demonstrated to ensure millions of guests can count on Target, and we'll continue to focus our efforts on supporting them," says Target's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, John Mulligan.

Target is open this weekend but—along with Costco, Aldi, Publix and Trader Joe's—Target stores will be closed on Easter Sunday to give the essential employees in these stores a much-deserved break.

News
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